Exeter Synagogue Archive

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Anne Lesh

I was born in Thuringia in Germany. I had one brother and my parents of course. It was a Jewish family but not an orthodox family. We were Jewish, we didn't deny it. We went to the synagogue twice a year, like many people do and for high holidays.

I really only remember from 1938 - to Kristallnacht - this is the first thing I really remember - when the men went to the concentration camps. I remember being in a train - we must have been shopping somewhere - like going to Torquay - something like that you know - and coming back - and these men had just been released after a fortnight in the camps. I suppose they all had their hair shaved off. That's the first thing I really remember. That I can remember very vividly - these shaven heads, and these men looked terrible...

My mother tried to send me to England, and she did eventually. My brother was sent to Israel - to a kibbutz, before me because he was a boy, and my mother thought that was best, which was right of course. He was only fifteen. And I came to England.

My mother had cousins here - and I stayed with them. English. I'd not met them before and they hadn't met me. They'd been to Germany some years previously to visit my home. I don't remember that, but I knew they'd been. He was a cousin of my mother's. I don't remember the meeting at the station. I remember going to their house for the first time. They had a little girl aged eight, I think she was. In a nice flat. They lived in Hampstead. I stayed with them for a long time.

I was eighteen, I worked as a nurse. I started training as a nurse. So, of course I stayed in hospital then. My mother was sent to a concentration camp. My cousin, my English cousin - her English cousin, the one I stayed with - tried to get her over, but the war had started by then and, of course, everything stopped. And he tried to get my mother over and it was just too late. Another month and she would have been here.

She wrote for a long time and I wrote too; of course, via the Red Cross - and then we didn't hear anything. And afterwards I heard. I tried various ways but she had died, let's put it like that.

My brother was in the British army R.A.S.C. - Royal Army Service Corps. He joined up in a Palestinian unit. He was in the army all through-the war. He got as far as Italy, I think, and never came to England - he couldn't make it with the army. We just missed each other again. but we were always in touch, we were very close. He died, in '53 he had a heart attack... he was 32 - 1955 he died. He'd just got married, and he had a little baby boy and the baby was nine months old then. Oh, it was very sad.

I did all my nursing training in London. Then I got married in 1947. My husband was a doctor and we went to Wales. He got a job in North Wales - and we were there for twenty three years - he was working and I was working. And when he retired, he's got a halfbrother who lives in Exeter - and so we decided to come to Exeter to be near his family. I have no family, obviously. So, that's why we came to Devon. He was also from Germany. We met in England, in the hospital. It was a hospital romance!

I never speak German. I haven't spoken German for many years. I can't remember any difficulties - except a bit of a language problem in the beginning. I remember working in hospital and being told to do various things - and I hadn't a clue what they were, you know - 'Empty bedpans' - and I didn't know what a bedpan was! I mean, I didn't know the word - things like that... but you soon learn, if you've got to!

When I lived in Germany there wasn't a Jewish school where I lived. It was a German school with girls of my age - a girls' school.

I remember the train journey, I'll never forget that, when we came back after Kristallnacht, but I don't even know if they did anything to the synagogue. I feel this is my country now.

[Anne died in August, 1998. She kindly donated all the new carpets for the restoration of the synagogue.]

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